Ah, remember the days when a Sunday Session meant a few beers (or more) in a sunny beer garden?
In my quest to become a triathlete, many things have taken on new meanings. For instance, ‘a short bike ride’ now means anything less than 90 minutes, ‘I’m going for a run’ is no longer the punchline to a joke I’m telling and ‘doing the laundry’ means untangling 20 pairs of sports socks, 7 pairs of leggings, 2 pairs of cycling knicks, 3 of running shorts, 9 sports bras, 10 fluorescent-coloured lycra tops and a swimming costume, whilst holding your breath to avoid the stink.
And so it is that, thanks to triathlon, the phrase Sunday Session now involves less beer* and actually refers to training sessions of a Sunday nature, which means that they are a bit longer, or require a special journey to get there, or are conducted in a group I can’t catch up with during the working week due to clashing schedules etc.
*I won’t claim zero beer is involved in these new Sunday Sessions, but there is definitely less beer.
I have always really liked getting up in the dark and pottering about the house while everyone else in the house continues to snore away, because it feels like I’m stealing extra life hours I’m not supposed to have. I always half-expect to find that Matilda the dog is able to speak perfect English in those stealthy moments, or that all the stuffed toys in the toy shop are having adventures on my roof. So although I would have really liked to stay in bed yesterday and get a whole 8 hours sleep, once I was awake and moving it wasn’t too bad and I felt quite excited about the day I was preparing for.
As I crept out of the house, giving the dog a bone and stuffing my swimming gear into the car, I realised that for the first time I wasn’t dreading going to join the Grimsey group. I felt calm and quite pleased about the opportunity to get back in the sea to test out my new and improved swimming form.
This peacefulness (which verged on me almost looking forward to getting in the ocean for a swim, dare I admit) increased when I arrived at Sutton’s Beach and saw the conditions. It was perfect.
There was no wind, not even a breeze. The sun was shining brightly, taking the chill out of the air and giving the air a lovely haze.
I registered at the desk and had a chat to a couple of other regulars in the slow group I swim in, whose names I have forgotten even though they have unfortunately remembered mine. Looking back, I think I made no effort at all to remember their names when they first told me and I wonder whether this was because I had no intention of returning after my first disastrous session back on my birthday. My subconscious must have already made its decision about the likelihood of ever returning and could not foresee that I would override it.
After conducting a conversation based solely on me avoiding using names, I got undressed and jammed my earplugs into my ears, my swimming cap on my head and goggles over my face.
Then I stood and surreptitiously looked around. I realised that there were a lot of people in wetsuits. This had not been a feature in my last session (two weeks ago) and suddenly I was a bit concerned. It’s the middle of Autumn here in Queensland now, and although we haven’t had a day below 30 degrees yet the mornings are starting to get a lot cooler. When I’d checked the thermometer inside the house when I woke up, it had said 22 degrees, so was probably only 19 or 20 degrees outside.
Was the water really going to be cold, I wondered?
We did our warm-up run along the beach (which always makes me terrified for the beach-running portion of the upcoming Straddie Salute Triathlon) and then received our instructions for a warm-up swim. The tide was out (as you can see from the picture at the very top of this post) so the water would be shallow enough to walk through for quite a distance, Codie Grimsey explained. Which is why, he said, the buoys had been put a bit further out than usual.
I looked out to where he pointed and laughed; the giant buoys looked like little specks on the horizon, and the little buoys were barely visible. I tried to get a photo after we’d finished, but I couldn’t stand back far enough to get a picture of the shore and the buoys in the same frame, so you couldn’t really tell how far out they were.
We streamed into the water, and for the first time since I started swimming at Redcliffe I could see the bottom as I swam. The sea was as still as the pool and it was beautiful; it wasn’t cold at all. I even did a bit of bilateral breathing and really relaxed into the swim. I hoped I might see those dolphins I’d spotted at my first session (I didn’t)
As the course was longer than usual, Coach Grimsey explained that we’d be focusing on aerobic swimming. Which is a fancy way of saying that we were going to improve our fitness rather than focus on technical skills. I timed us doing one lap of the course and it took 15 minutes, so we could basically only fit in 4 x 15 minute laps anyway.
After our warm-up, we were instructed to try breathing bilaterally around the course. ‘I just did that!’ I thought. But off we went, and as I ducked my head under the water and began to swim, I realised I had lost one of my ear plugs.
I can’t swim without my earplugs! Well I have never successfully been swimming without my earplugs and I wasn’t keen on having my first panic attack in months by trying to swim without them then. So I decided to skip the bilateral breathing, and stuck to the one-sided breathing so that water was only being tipped into the ear still protected by an earplug. I hoped Grimsey wouldn’t spot my blatant insolence from the distant shoreline.
As we rounded the second buoy to head back to shore, I noticed I was swimming next to a young lady in a wetsuit. I figured that if I’d spent a few hundred bucks on one, I’d probably want to wear it the first opportunity I had, too, so I didn’t begrudge her the nice warm, buoyant and slick advantage she had over me. In fact, I was thrilled to find I was keeping up with her despite it. We raced for a couple of hundred metres until she finally pulled in front of me as we got to the shallows and stood up to walk. I was pleased with my progress.
Pleased that is, until I turned around to find that I appeared to be the last one out of the water. DAMN IT! I yelled to myself inside. I waded out of the water to join the others waiting on the stand, and listened for our next instructions. When none were forthcoming, I looked back to the water to see a second group of our slow swimmers emerging from the water. The Stragglers. ‘I’m usually in that group!’ I thought to myself. I wasn’t last after all – I was simply last in the first pack.
Accepting my new promotion with gusto, I returned to the water with glee as Coach Grimsey told us to do the same lap again, but this time breathing one-sided. We were to swap sides half way.
I set off, truly enjoying myself and taking the opportunity to focus on my technique for once. I tried to feel the twist in my hips, to keep my toes perfectly pointed and kick from the hip, to pull my hands back with my elbows bent. At the half-way point, I took my earplug out of the right ear and popped it in my left ear, to allow myself to breath on that side instead. I lost a few metres on the pack doing so, but at least I was able to stick to the plan.
After a final lap ‘going fast, with maximum effort’ as Grimsey instructed (which to me unfortunately meant doing the same pace I’d been doing the whole session, as I really only have one speed) it was time to finish. We had a debrief from the coach about why it is so important we practice bilateral breathing in the pool, even though we should always breathe one-sided in the ocean. Then we were released.
I hurried off home for breakfast and various tasks that needed to be completed before Sunday Session number 2 – the hills.
My new friend Kirsty, who I mentioned a few weeks ago on this blog, had contacted me earlier in the week to suggest we meet for a ‘decent hills session’. Her exact words were ‘Going to head to that hill at Moora park next Sunday for an epic hill sprint session if you’re keen?’ which was followed by ‘I’m trying to find a decent hill set that will make us not be able to walk for days lol.’
Lol indeed. I had no idea where this park was or to what hill she was referring. I reluctantly accepted, trusting that I have been putting a lot of effort into practising my hill sessions on the indoor bike at the gym lately and wouldn’t be too embarrassingly slow.
One of my other training buddies, Wendy, had also mentioned that we might do a hills session sometime. So I’d had it in the back of my mind for a while. Wendy’s son, the superstar swimmer, does a hills session on his bike every Wednesday morning, so I also felt it was a ‘pro’ type thing to do. A hills session. Yup.
I tell you this because hopefully it explains why I assumed our hills session would be on the bike. At no point did it occur to me that someone might be crazy enough to plan to drive to a hill and then run up and down it repeatedly, for training. But as usual, I am an imbecile.
The clues were there, particularly when she messaged me on Friday and said that based on the reading she’d done, ‘you shouldn’t go too hardcore on the first hill session anyway, so it’ll be gentle…’ and that she was ‘thinking maybe a mix of short slow runs with hills?!’
In hindsight, I see the use of the word runs. But at the time I thought she meant ‘slow bits’ on the bike rather than actually running slow. Because all my running is slow, and I’ve never purposefully run slower. And as previously stated, it was simply beyond my comprehension that somebody would choose a location to run based on the fact that there is a horrible hill to tackle there.
Luckily, my suspicion of other triathletes is quite high. I am well aware that I may be the only pain-averse, crap athlete attempting this sport in the local vicinity. So my spidey senses, although not very good, were on high alert.
And as I drove home from Grimsey’s Swimfit, it dawned on me. I thought to myself ‘Damn that biatch, she means actually running on our feet!!’
I messaged Kirsty as soon as I got home, and it was confirmed. Too late to back out, my fate was sealed. I started to worry.
I arrived at the park about 10 minutes before we’d arranged to meet, so I snapped a few pictures to demonstrate the height at which we were starting. Then I went and found Kirsty.
Meeting an Insta-friend for the first time is a bit weird. We’d emailed and messaged and tagged each other a lot over the last few weeks, so I felt like I already knew her like an old friend. I know the names of her children, her husband, her personal trainer. She has read my blog and therefore knows my toilet habits. But meeting in the flesh was a bit weird, particularly as we were both unsure as to how this ‘epic hills session’ was going to go down. I’d left my phone in the car, but only because I’d decided that if we needed to call an ambulance there were enough people around that a member of the general public would be able to step in and make the call.
Kirsty was absolutely lovely. She seemed more shy than I’d expected (but possibly I was expecting a commando-style triathletised fitness junkie) and I think we hit it off. We did a bit of a warm-up, discussed the route we would follow and agreed to aim for 4 laps, with the possibility of a fifth if we felt
stupid fit enough.
The first lap started with a run down some stairs, which should have been easy but is surprisingly difficult for an uncoordinated runner like myself. I had to concentrate really hard and couldn’t continue our conversation. As we approached the first hill, we wished each other luck and pumped our arms as hard as we could. We made it to the top, then ran back down for a second go at the same hill (this was Kirsty’s idea)
On the way back up the hill, I was delighted to hear the myriad of swear words emanating from the mouth of my new sweet and lovely triathlete friend. I know some people like to listen to dance music in their ipods when running, but personally I much prefer the rhythm of ‘eff this’ and ‘oh, eff’ and ‘jeeesus’ and ‘oh cha-rist’ for my running soundtrack. It was fantastic. I yelled to Kirstie that it was refreshing to find someone who swears even more than I do. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We ran our hearts out and after lap number two we had a break for water and Kirsty took her inhaler. Which was very embarrassing for me because not only is this lovely lady a superstar triathlete whilst juggling two small children (her baby is only 10 months old!) but she also has asthma. My mind boggles at this situation, particularly as I had spent two whole days last week complaining that my dog needs so much walking and that my shins hurt from running.
I can’t begin to imagine how much effort and dedication it takes to tackle The Straddie Salute with the responsibilities and challenges that Kirsty has. She is an inspiration to me.
We ran on, tackling the evil hill another 4 times in the next two laps and then turning around for the fifth lap, which we completed in reverse (running up the steps)
At which point, our legs fell off and we were unable to continue.
Amazed that I had turned up to a session that involved running up and down a near-vertical hill (not something I ever thought I’d do intentionally) I was even more surprised that I survived it. It felt really good, and although I’d had my doubts I was so glad that Kirsty had invited me along. We arranged to tackle the same session next week, and said our goodbyes.
As I crawled back to the car, I realised I’d forgotten to take a selfie for the blog. Disastrous! But there was nothing I could d0, except walk 15 metres back to where Kirsty had parked her car – and that simply was not a possibility for my legs, which were still unattached. So I will have to get one next week.
With my Sunday Sessions completed, I returned home to feel grateful for the opportunity I’ve got to pursue this triathlon adventure, and how relatively easy it is for me to find the time and energy to do so. There are lots of amazing mums and dads in triathlon world doing much more incredible things than I could ever achieve.
I was the child of a dedicated athlete, so I know that what you do is hard, but worth it.
You are amazing!